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$8.6 million to get students back into learning

Extra $8.6 million to get students back into learning

The government is spending an extra $8.6 million over the next four years on existing and new initiatives to make sure students stay engaged in learning, and to reduce the level of truancy, Education Minister Trevor Mallard announced today.

"These new initiatives are designed to support schools and encourage disengaged students back into learning. They will be carried out at local levels to best meet the needs of schools and their students," Trevor Mallard said.
"The new work will also build on the highly successful Suspensions Reduction Initiative by setting targets for reducing truancy and early leaving exemptions, and for getting alienated students back into school sooner.

"I am confident the new initiatives announced today will continue to reduce suspensions, truancy and unwarranted absenteeism at school so all our students are actively engaged in education."

The new initiatives include: additional resources for selected areas to support truancy interventions ($411,000 extra in the first year). Those areas are the Far North, Kaipara, Opotiki, Papakura, Rotorua, South Waikato, Taupo, Waipa and Whangerei. The support will go towards supporting existing District Truancy Services and the development of new initiatives, such as those coming out of the Rotorua circuit breaker project; reviewing truancy responses in parts of Canterbury, Marlborough, Nelson, Southland and the West Coast where there are high rates of truancy and concerns that some existing responses are not as effective as elsewhere; expanding the Suspensions Reduction Initiative to include schools with very high rates of early leaving exemptions; supporting a pilot project to develop a streamlined and cost-effective truancy prosecution process; speeding up processes for getting non-enrolled students back into school through a review of the current contracting and funding arrangements with the Non Enrolment Truancy Service; the development of a new data system to track students via the electronic exchange of information about students between schools and the Ministry of Education; and a project to enhance schools’ software packages so they can notify parents automatically via email or text messages when their child is absent.

Trevor Mallard said on a daily basis most students attend school and for the majority of those who do not, their absences are justified – as confirmed by a research report being released today by the Ministry of Education, entitled “Attendance and Absence in New Zealand Schools”. “The overall absence rate is 8.7 per cent, but truancy – a component of absence – accounts for 2.9 per cent of absences,” Trevor Mallard said.

“Secondary schools experience the highest levels of absence. However, both overall absences, which includes absences due to illnesses, and truancy were slightly down from the 1996 survey.

"While I’m pleased the truancy rate has not got worse since 1996, it’s still not good enough and I do want to see truancy rates drop. As a result, today's initiatives will be specifically targeted into areas where there are uncommonly high rates of truancy or student disengagement.

"An example we can follow is the Rotorua circuit breaker project which shows us what can happen when a community and government agencies work together to address truancy issues. This project has enabled us to learn a number of important lessons about what we can do to improve inter-agency cooperation around social issues such as student truancy."

Trevor Mallard said the new work further supports the Suspensions Reduction Initiative which has over the last two years seen suspensions drop in schools by 30 per cent.

“Since the initiative was established in 2000, the rate of suspension of Maori students has reduced from 76 per 1000 to 48 per 1000 in 2002 in the 86 schools involved.

“Today’s package of initiatives also sits alongside programmes designed to keep students engaged in and enthused about learning. These include the Maori youth mentoring programme He Ara Tika, funding from the Innovations Pool for special programmes for at-risk students, alternative education programmes for students who are alienated from school, social workers in schools, and the activity centres that are attached to schools and cater for at-risk students.”

Trevor Mallard said important scoping and development work was continuing on the proposed data system to track and identify truant students.

“With 2700 schools in the New Zealand school system, there is a considerable risk in trying to rush this project before the basic infrastructure and training are in place to support any new system,” Trevor Mallard said.

The Attendance and Absence in New Zealand School in 2002 survey is available at The student engagement work will also be further informed by an OECD report 2000 Thematic Report: Student Engagement at School which is being released at midnight.

Questions and Answers

How will the Suspensions Reduction Initiative be expanded? The Suspensions Reduction Initiative currently targets 86 secondary schools with high suspension and exclusion rates. It will be expanded to include about 30 more schools with very high rates of early leaving exemptions. Investment in this area will total about $2.3 million a year.

The additional schools targeted will be those where more than 15 per cent of the school’s Year 11 students have early leaving exemptions. Most tend to be in the central North Island with a small number in the upper North Island and some in the South Island.

The short-term target will be to initially reduce the rate of early leaving exemptions to 12 per cent for the schools with the high rates. For schools where the truancy rate is more than double the national average, the short-term truancy target will be to initially reduce their rates to 1.7 per cent for primary, 2 per cent for intermediate and 7 per cent for secondary schools.

What is the aim of the pilot project looking at the prosecutions process for truancy? This is being developed in conjunction with the Crown solicitor’s office in Auckland and is aimed at providing schools with a cost-effective and speedy process for dealing with truancy when other means have been exhausted. Funding for this will be up to $30,000 in the first year.

How is work progressing on the student data system? The Ministry of Education is currently scoping a data system which will involve the sharing of electronic data to better manage student enrolment processes and the monitoring of attendance at schools.

This complex work is being done in conjunction with other developments that are enhancing schools’ software systems. It will take account of any legal and privacy issues that arise.

It is expected that pilots will be in place by 2005.

The success of the project depends on the roll-out of Project Probe (the delivery of high speed internet access into all schools by the end of 2004), the uptake by schools of effective electronic administration systems that can “talk” to each other, and the development of an overall information systems strategy for the schools sector.

When will the review of contracting and funding arrangements with the Non Enrolment Truancy Service be completed? The aim of the review is to speed up processes for getting non-enrolled students back into school. It will be completed by March 2004. Up to an additional $650,000 per year will be available to the service, depending on the demand that arises from referrals.

Which schools were covered by the Attendance and Absence in New Zealand School in 2002 survey? All state and state-integrated primary, composite, intermediate and secondary schools were surveyed.

What did the survey involve? The survey was carried out in 2002 and investigated student attendance and schools’ practices of monitoring attendance and the use of truancy or tracking services.

As with previous surveys, schools were asked to record student absences for a period of one week. This included absences deemed by the school to be justified as well as those that were not (including those of an intermittent nature). For the first time individual student data has been collected, allowing for a more in-depth analysis of attendance and truancy.

What were the key findings? On a daily basis most students attend school and for those who do not their absences are justified.

The overall absence rate is 8.7 per cent, with truancy – a component of absence – at 2.9 per cent.

Secondary schools experience the highest levels of absence, however both overall absence, which includes absences due to illnesses, and truancy were slightly down from an earlier 1996 survey.

Non-attendance was more of an issue for some schools than others. On average, higher levels of truancy were experienced by secondary schools, state schools (rather than state integrated), schools located in towns (rather than rural or city environments) and in lower decile schools, and was often lower in larger schools.

Differences were also evident in relation to the students themselves, with truancy being more of an issue with some groups of students than with others. Students’ rate of absence could vary throughout the years of schooling and in relation to the type of school the student attended.

Rates of truancy generally start increasing for both boys and girls from year nine, mainly through intermittent truancy during the school day. Up to year 12, boys in single sex schools had the lowest rates of truancy, but then in year 13 they had the highest rate, mainly through absences recorded intermittently through the school day.

The rates of truancy for Mäori and Pasifika students were twice that of New Zealand European and Asian students.

The Attendance and Absence in New Zealand School in 2002 survey is available at The student engagement work will also be further informed by an OECD report 2000 Thematic Report: Student Engagement at School which is being released at midnight.

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